You’ve obtained your bachelor’s degree and are ready to take the next step. Is that step a charge into job opportunities in your chosen career field? Or is it the pursuit of more education, perhaps a master’s degree? It’s worth considering.
Whether you’ve recently completed your undergrad or spent several years in the field, getting a master’s degree could provide a range of exciting opportunities that might otherwise be out of reach. Once thought of as an elite credential out of reach to the general population, the master’s degree is more accessible than ever. Data from the United States Census reveals that 13.1 percent of adults had their master’s as of 2018, compared to just 8.6 percent in 2000.
The prevalence of graduate education is expected to increase further as highly skilled employees become even more vital to the modern workforce—and as virtual options make it easier for a wide variety of students to take advantage of upper-level academia.
What Is a Master’s Degree?
Before you proceed with applying for graduate school, it’s important to know what, exactly, a master’s degree is and how it differs from your bachelor’s. Master’s programs are often confused with other academic opportunities, including high-level options such as graduate certificates and doctoral degrees.
One of several levels of graduate study, a master’s degree is awarded to students who have been educated in and demonstrate expertise of a specific subject. While a bachelor’s degree typically involves both general studies and focused courses related to a major or minor of choice, the master’s degree takes on a narrower focus, encouraging students to develop high-level skills that they will use as they ascend the career ladder. This focus differs somewhat from that of a doctorate, however, as doctoral degrees tend to emphasize elite research above and beyond that pursued in a master’s program.
Do You Need a Master’s Degree? Key Questions to Ask
A master’s degree can be a valuable addition to your academic resume, but it’s not right for everybody or at all times. Only you can know whether you’re ready to take this next step in your education. It is worth taking the time, however, to think carefully about your current situation and whether the additional commitment is feasible.
As you decide whether to apply for graduate school, ask yourself not only, “Should I get a master’s degree?” but also, these specific questions:
Am I Passionate About the Topic?
Graduate school is tough but rewarding—or, at least, it is if you’re genuinely passionate about the topic you’re studying. If you feel merely lukewarm about your degree program of choice, you’ll find it far more difficult to handle the complex coursework, long papers, and busy schedule that come with it.
Be sure to think about your passion separate from your career prospects. If you stood to gain little professionally from your degree, would you still want to study the topic in question? Are you willing to remain committed to this field long after you’ve earned your degree?
Could I Gain the Same Skills Elsewhere?
A master’s degree represents one of several available avenues for gaining critical career skills. Depending on your field, it may be the only viable option—but sometimes, alternatives such as apprenticeships, certificates, or even a second bachelor’s degree are also possible. Job training may also be provided through your current employer. Graduate education often rises above and beyond these training options, but it’s still worth your while to take a close look at alternatives and whether they’ll actually benefit you more in the long run.
Will it Help Me Gain New Professional Connections?
When considering the value of a master’s degree, many people forget the extent to which graduate programs can build their professional network. As a graduate student, you’ll develop close relationships with faculty that will prove both personally and professionally rewarding.
During grad school, you’ll also have the opportunity to meet a variety of fellow students who are also eager to take the next step in their careers. These connections could prove valuable as you seek new professional opportunities upon graduating. If you’re struggling to network effectively in your current day-to-day life, grad school may provide the range of contacts you need to score your dream job.
Will I Need to Relocate for the Right Program?
Perhaps you’re interested in pursuing your master’s degree but only willing to move forward with a specific program that is closely aligned to your career goals. Some programs can be found at several graduate schools, but others are far more limited in their availability. Depending on the format, you may need to consider moving to attend classes in-person.
The good news? Digital options make master’s programs more accessible than ever before. A variety of excellent graduate degrees are available exclusively online. This format is far more flexible, so you can build your academic schedule around work, family, and other essentials. Most importantly, however, online graduate degrees allow you to pursue the next step in your education without needing to uproot your life.
Will it Positively Impact My Career?
This question isn’t as simple as it seems. A master’s degree almost always has a positive career impact in one way or another. If nothing else, it looks great on a resume. With that being said, the extent to which this upper-level degree impacts your career should be considered.
While it’s possible to simultaneously pursue your master’s and maintain a full-time job, this path is far from easy. As such, many people choose to sacrifice a few years of work for the sake of expanded career opportunities in the future. In the event that you take time off of work, you’ll want to enter grad school feeling 100 percent confident that your academic endeavors will pay off over time.
Keep in mind that a degree in an unrelated field is not likely to have a huge impact on your professional life. And there are fields where career prospects and higher salaries are harder to come by with only a bachelor’s degree. In those cases, a master’s provides the opportunity for significant increases in earnings, as well as opportunities to reach new heights in your field and even take on management positions.
Increasingly, a master’s degree serves as a minimum barrier to entry for mid and upper-level positions. If you’re intent on moving away from your entry-level job, this credential may be your best bet for gaining a foothold on the next rung of the career ladder.
Will I Have the Time?
No matter which degree program you choose, your master’s will necessitate a major time commitment. Not only will you need to attend classes (either online or in-person), but you will dedicate dozens of hours each week to studying on your own, working with fellow graduate students, and, depending on the program, completing a capstone research project.
Time to completion is also worth considering; some programs can be finished in a mere twelve months, while others require a full two years, or, depending on your pace, even longer. Consider how long you’re willing to scale back your career or personal life—and how long you’re able to wait before seeking higher-level work.
Is it Worth the Cost?
Once you’ve considered the numerous factors outlined above, it’s time to take a close look at the cost of obtaining your master’s degree and decide, based on all the benefits you’ve identified, if it’s still worth your while. Examine the cost of the specific programs you’re considering and how these expenses match up with anticipated increases in income upon graduation.
Don’t forget that a variety of options may be available for helping you cover the cost of grad school. For example, if you’ve served in the military, you may qualify for the Yellow Ribbon Program. Another option may be employer reimbursement. Investigate whether your current employer might be willing to cover a portion of—or better yet, the entire—cost of grad school.
Keep in mind that the cost of your master’s degree won’t strictly be financial. As mentioned above, you’ll need to consider the huge time commitment that graduate school requires—and whether you’re willing to make temporary sacrifices at work, with hobbies, or in other areas of your life to ensure that you have enough time and mental capacity for your academic efforts.
Am I Likely to Be Accepted?
You’re leaning towards grad school but feeling a bit unsure as you proceed with the process of selecting and applying for a master’s degree program. The application process can vary dramatically between universities, so be sure to take a close look at the requirements for your preferred options.
There’s no denying that seeking your master’s is a time-intensive and often stressful process, but many successful graduates would argue that the hard work and sacrifice are more than worthwhile given the range of benefits that grad school provides.
If you’re ready to dive into your favorite subject, build strong connections with the most knowledgeable professionals, and add an impressive credential to your resume, you could be the perfect candidate for getting a master’s degree.
A Post master’s degree may be the key to career advancement, as it has been for many graduates. Ready to take the next step? Apply online today.
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